Basic (as in, no bells and whistles) sewing machine recommendations for a beginner...
February 14, 2012 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend (from personal experience) a good, basic, durable sewing machine?

Mrs. Brownrd would like to buy a sewing machine. She wants a very basic sewing machine for alterations, puppet sewing, and light stuff. She has never had one before. Keep in mind basic doesn't have to mean cheap. She likened this purchase to when we bought a new oven: no electronics, no LED timer - just an oven. Any recommendations?
posted by brownrd to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Pfaff or Singer. There are no other sewing machines. Extra points for an old, awesome cast-iron one.
posted by cmoj at 3:45 PM on February 14, 2012

A solid metal body Kenmore 158 from the 70s. It can sew through anything. Vintage machines are sadly the only real way to go if you're looking for a machine that does not depend on computer ships to control everything.

The Kenmore will outlive me, and they seem to be relatively plentiful and reasonably priced as well as easy to find parts for and maintain.
posted by vers at 3:56 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

A metal-bodied Singer is almost invulnerable. Have it serviced when you buy it, and occasionally thereafter. My wife, who is a professional costumer, uses her old (70's I think) metal Singer for detail work all the time. It gets heavily used, and she sends it to the shop for service twice a year. Probably you won't need that level of service, not using it hours a day.

Do not get a plastic-bodied Singer. They are simply crap. I had one when I met her, and it just doesn't work as well as her machines, even after service. Find an old one on Craigslist or eBay.

FWIW, she also has a 1920's metal walking foot machine with leather cables linking it to the motor. Invulnerable! It will punch through four layers of leather and not even stutter. You don't need that, but it certainly impresses me.
posted by Invoke at 4:32 PM on February 14, 2012

I picked up a basic Kenmore at a Black Friday KMart sale about 5 years ago for about 40 bucks. The only trouble I've had is that the bobbin winder died, but it's easy enough to do that by hand. It sews great, and I've never run into a problem with it while working on a project, unlike the (plastic-bodied) Singer that I had as a child.
posted by jabes at 4:34 PM on February 14, 2012

Metal body Kenmore from the 70's. My aunt, my grandmother and my mother all still have theirs although my mom and aunt got new machines for finer quilting stuff, they still use the Kenmores for heavy/rough stuff because they never die. Whatever you get avoid anything digital until she gets more into it, if you screw up the settings on a manual one, you just set the knobs back, but if a digital one gets knocked out of whack they need to be re-calibrated and that can be pricey.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 4:41 PM on February 14, 2012

I have a simple Elna that I bought new about 12 years ago. It still runs well and has been through plenty of sewing projects over the years. Elna doesn't make that model any more, but their second from bottom end model appears to be more or less equivalent to what I have. Mrs. Plinth had a boat anchor Singer when we got married. We sold the Singer and kept the Elan. No regrets.
posted by plinth at 4:46 PM on February 14, 2012

How basic is "basic"?

I ask because I was given an old Singer, which I then quickly outgrew because of two things: 1) I wanted a free-arm machine to quilt and 2) I wanted a machine that would sew button holes.

What I ended up buying was an earlier version of this Brother Machine and I've been very happy with it for the past 4 years.

If you want to read more, I suggest searching the many threads on Craftser about this topic.
posted by tinymegalo at 4:51 PM on February 14, 2012

I agree with everyone who suggested an old metal machine. I have my grandmother's Singer 66-16, which she bought in 1947 or so. It still works very well, and I can still buy feet and parts for it.

My machine came with a buttonhole attachment, for what it's worth, but you can find them on eBay or buy them through a vintage sewing machine supply dealer, too.
posted by Lycaste at 4:55 PM on February 14, 2012

Seconding the Brother CS6000 that I also bought a million years ago (5). I didn't actually start using this machine until I started metaquilter (yay!), but since then I've even taken a few local classes. My teacher was super-impressed by my machine at the last class (when she checked the whole set-up out).

I'm sure an old metal machine is great, too. but I love my Brother CS60000. (looking at you 1-step buttonholer& easy everything machine)
posted by Kronur at 7:00 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

A solid metal body Kenmore 158 from the 70s. It can sew through anything. Vintage machines are sadly the only real way to go if you're looking for a machine that does not depend on computer ships to control everything.

This is not true. My mother recently got me a basic entry-level Brother machine from walmart that isn't computer controlled (has a manual dial for settings, etc.)

I grew up sewing on my mother's 1920s metal-bodied singer. It was a pain in the ass to thread, unintuitive, with only one setting. I'm much happier with my new machine.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:18 PM on February 14, 2012

I've been very happy with my basic Pfaff. Had it for 12 years now and it still sews beautifully. They are excellent machines, as are Berninas.

Avoid modern Singers. Even brand-new ones in stores have irregular stitching. Which reminds me: Try out models before buying, using different stitches – it helps get an idea, even if you've never had one before. Bring your own piece of fabric and try to use the same on each machine, that way you can compare stitches. After a few different machines, you start noticing things. I'd also beware of Brother machines; they seem to be fine at first, but everyone I know who's had one (so, anecdata nonetheless) has eventually had tension problems.

Older metal machines are great. There was a recent AskMe thread with recommendations: Guidance for buying a used sewing machine.
posted by fraula at 11:43 PM on February 14, 2012

I've been very happy with this Janome machine - it's branded for a DIY sewing site, but it's a re-release of an older model, so it's metal bodied & entirely mechanical/uncomputered, with what I'd call the first level of 'complication' (knit setting, eight or so stitch patterns including basic buttonhole.) It says 'Threadbanger' all over it in gothic writing, but that fact may enable you to pick up one at a discounted price :) I find that I do use at least some of the stitch patterns on a regular basis (knit settings especially, and zigzag for reinforcing edges.)

Aha- here's a discussion of some of the other model numbers this machine has been sold under.
posted by heyforfour at 4:22 AM on February 15, 2012

I'm an old-metal-Singer person as well. I mostly sew corsets, and that thing chews through layers and layers of pretty sturdy fabric (and leather as well, if I want it to) like it's nothin'. I got it off of craigslist, with a cabinet, for $50, and after I got it serviced, it's run pretty perfectly. And when it doesn't, it's very easy to take off some plate or other and see what you need to clean, being all mechanical. I love it to death. For straight stitch.

See, it doesn't have a zigzag stitch. Let alone any other, fancier ones. This is a lack that I feel. So don't forget to check for that. But I love love love the antique metal machines, and they're so very durable and sturdy.

And, yes, Singer is horrible now. I believe it was purchased by another company some few years ago, who went on using the name but did not carry on with quality products.
posted by Because at 8:20 PM on February 16, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, all!
posted by brownrd at 4:41 AM on February 17, 2012

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